If Steve Cooper is relieved of his duties, I won’t be heartbroken at the prospect of losing his brand of football, writes our Forest columnist Gareth Watts. But I will be heartbroken for pretty much every other reason...
I’ve written previously about the devastating Jerry Seinfeld line about supporting a sports team; that the players change, the opponents change, sponsors, owners, almost everything apart from the badge and (broadly speaking) the colour of the shirt. "We cheer for clothes," Seinfeld says. Such a gag punctures our egos as devoted fans in the good times but provides a much-needed sense of perspective when things are tough. Everyone else will leave, but we’ll still be here. Personally, I’ve always found the "Forest ‘til I die" chant profoundly depressing. Sure, it’s a statement of fact, but I’d like to at least imagine a future where I’m not shackled to this godforsaken club.
These thoughts are complicated further when someone arrives at your club who is so perfect for that moment you don’t want it to end. In the special times, you want the impermanence to slow and for time to bend … John Robertson should rampage down the left of the pitch ad infinitum, Stuart Pearce should always be our number three and, of course, there needs to be a big-headed bloke in a green jumper. For many of us, the past two years there has been another contender for the list of Forest greats: an unassuming Welsh man perennially pumping his fist at the A Block. Steve Cooper’s warmth, his man-management, articulate media handling and the narratives he’s created that centre around Nottingham, the city and its people, have served to carve a different sort of icon: humble, respectful, authentic.
To complicate things even further... if we’re honest our love for Cooper is only tangentially linked to his football tactics. His 3-4-3 formation swashbuckled its way to Wembley; his 5-4-1 clung onto Premier League status by their fingertips and this year? Well, there’s been pressure with even more new signings to add a bit of style to the survival tactics and so far the flirtation with 4-3-3 hasn’t really come off. Circumstances have dictated that there’s no real discernible Cooper ‘style’. When we win that can feel like ingenious pragmatism; when we lose the sense of emptiness echoes.
For every marvellous victory this season, such as those at Chelsea or home to Villa, there’s a glut of deflating draws and disappointing defeats. Most alarmingly, Everton seemed to take three points from Nottingham without breaking a sweat and Fulham’s 5-0 rout was nothing short of humiliating. Reverting to a low block away at Wolves restored some pride and took the sting out of the bad run, but the fact remains: we’re perched precariously just above the drop zone, and so for the third time since promotion, our man’s job is on the line.
If Steve Cooper is relieved of his duties, I won’t be heartbroken at the prospect of losing his brand of football. But I will be heartbroken for pretty much every other reason. We spent twenty years in the wilderness, wondering if the Premier League would ever be a possibility again. Not only did he take us there with his first attempt, he kept us there, and he did so with grace, integrity and an uncanny ability to just ‘get’ Nottingham Forest Football Club. In a 24-hour news cycle that’s desperate for a sensational story and a social media cesspit which only values the most extreme ‘takes’, this bigger picture and the importance of Cooper’s humanity is likely to get lost. I, for one, would be sad to see him go.
We have a favour to ask
LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?